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Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Sunil Khilnani is equal to the arduous task of piecing together shards of thought, figments of imagination and blades of history that constitute an incredibly complex nation. He is a Cambridge scholar and it doesn’t show as he diligently pores over the mounds of disparate material on his chosen ways of dealing with India.

Large tracts of this admittedly unwieldy read explore the efforts made by Nehru in shaping the economy, social structures, polity, industry and similar fields. The contribution of Nehru, in conspicuous movement away from an era where statehood and belonging were not even theoretical concepts, to a scenario where the state lay as the very heart of society, cannot be gainsaid.. His attempt at conjuring up a physical embodiment of his vision on the basis of what was tenuously thin and fragmented understanding and experience was laudable. The support enjoyed with the intellectuals as even as that shifts to a bathetic show of pomp, venality and avarice among those purportedly schooled in Nehruvian thought, is chronicled. Khilnani balances this socialism with the rise and strengthening of Hindu communalism, explaining the disillusionment with lofty ideals of the past. He also markedly eulogizes the dynamic democracy that we have, musing that even the mere fact that we have not descended to worse, is remarkable in itself.

Some of the other essays dwell on Cities and their place in Indian polity, again the funereal dirge of Chandigarh wails loud and clear. Other notable facets and minarets of Indian democracy are similarly analyzed, and compared. The pluralism and hallowed Unity in Diversity platitudes are chipped away, till we are left with a truth that reads more like Diversity in Unity, turning the careworn sophistry on its head. There is also protracted prose on the Congress Party, as it successfully straddles a nationalist populism with the realpolitik of a discernible regional, casteist and religious order not dismantled easily. The tenets of self-sufficiency and self-reliance are examined in painstaking detail, as is their relevance of these tenets to other democratic entities.

Where Khilnani flounders is his obdurate unwillingness to adopt minatory postures towards the four pillars of Nehruvian thought- institution-building, secularism, Non-Analignment, and socialist economics, equally. He does not inveigh against any form of the inadequacies of the last pillar, which have resigned India to mass poverty and squalor. The disintegration of India , away from itself , is again not worth a mention.

Yet who can fault the romanticism of this nation where every disjointed swipe at every feature reveals the whole as being more than the sum of its parts ? Who cannot but delight in the scarcely-believable notion of a nation held together by “ strong but invisible threads” ?
Yet an unbalanced work!

A 6.5 on 10 !


Had meant to read this awhile ago, got round to crosswording it only recently.

The book is about the science and the art of “knowing” by “looking”, all in the first couple of moments ( Ed—Uncannily close to a pseudo Magic Realist story penned by you some time ago in Bhopal !). Malcolm Gladwell compares and contrasts the putative powers of elaborate decision-making with snap judgements, as he divides his narrative into separately functional and vividly detailed case studies.

His examples deal with a dazzling spread of social and private phenomena—art scholars erring in judgement over genuine work, the ability of a man of science to “thin-slice” a marriage and tell in no time if a union would work, speed dating, Presidential candidature, the thwarting of a gifted musician by marketing research, the diatribe against New Coke, and the wrongful shooting down of a passer-by by hyper-charged policmen.

His dialectic reconciliation of contrary view points; when speedy evaluation has proved right, and when it has resulted in disastrous mistakes, is remarkable as he draws on from diverse fields with felicity. He cites a number of experts who have mastered the art of making correct decisions based on the thinnest slices of facts available, and their cognitive explanations for those. He marvels at this ability to predict accurate with hardly any real data, but goes on to say that this can be learnt. On the other hand, he speaks movingly about instances where the same logic has boomeranged, primarily because of a series of sequential errors of judgement, or using the wrong data on which to base their opinion.

The scope of the concept, which is a pioneering one indubitably, is admirable as is the endeavour to enlarge its application. But somewhere the sheer cussedness of hindsight is overbearing, as hardly does he proffer contrary results in the same framework, is glaring. As is his continued use of aphorisms and truisms, which stand out against the backdrop of professional expertise, that he himself swears by. Finally, other than assiduous practice, there seems to be little experiential utility in this novel schema.

A 7 on 10 !
( Ed—But an 8.5 on Research, the author would put Bob Andrews to shame !)


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